Historically, floods and their control have never been a big issue in the Ganga-Brahmaputra basin, as it is today. Floods became a major issue after the British occupied India. When they examined the Ganga basin, they believed that if it could be made “flood-free”, they could levy a tax in return for such protection.
Thursday, 8 January 2009
Almost echoing the words of Dr Dinesh Kumar Mishra, B G Verghese submits that Kosi region "...is possibly being the most blighted part of the entire country The flood has wiped the slate clean. We have a wonderful opportunity to write a completely new script that could put North Bihar in the vanguard of India’s social and economic progress. But none has as yet shown the imagination to do so."
" Repairing the breach in the Kosi’s eastern embankment in Nepal will not guarantee the safety of the 50 year-old Bhimnager barrage" which It has been a long- standing Nepalese grievance that this barrage was built just within its boundary with Bihar and not further upstream, thereby providing Nepal greater flood protection, irrigation and energy benefits. That is history."
But the danger lies in his prescription for engineering solution that is quite contrary to the Ganga basin approach that Prime Minister's Office has announced. Verghese says, " If the Bhimnagar barrage has outlived its lifer, could/should it not be replaced by a new barrage optimally sited further north. Could that also possibly serve as the re-regulating dam for the proposed Kosi High Dam (Barakshetra)-cum-Kurule-Sun Kosi diversion for which a joint detailed project report long under preparation is now to be expedited? In combination, the High Dam and new barrage could help regulate the river and moderate floods, some of the flood being diverted at Kurule into the Sun Kosi and thence beneficially into the water-stressed Kamla basin within Nepal."
He also submits revealing his support for Interlinking of Rivers project saying, "An additional possibility would be diverting some of the Kosi storage eastwards into the Mechi river that marks Nepal’s border with West Bengal. This could in turn augment the flows of the Mahananda and Teesta to resolve an Indo-Bangla argument."
But again he partly and deceptively echoes Dr Mishra, "Further, should the Kosi be fully restored to its pre-August 2008 embanked channel via the Bhimnagar barrage, so as to maintain the existing irrigation system, or should the new eastern arm that has opened up along an old alignment be also kept alive?" but very soon retreats into the make believe worl of structural engineering.
Verghese does not realize the limitations of his suggestions "With some desiltation and training works, this could be converted into the proposed navigation channel to link Nepal to the sea, an aspect of the High Dam study. This second channel could also serve as a flood-reducer by diverting high monsoon flows into yet another channel."
Vergese feels that "The World Bank and ADB would surely assist any credible programme, including dam building, and carbon credits could defray some of the costs."
Despite global financial crisis it is amazing that trust in these institutions remains intact.
Tuesday, 6 January 2009
Being a moderated discussion, participants are expected to stay focused around the lead questions:
What is Ganga River Basin approach? Does it apply to only 79% of Ganga basin, which is in India? Will it include 13 % of Ganga basin that is in Nepal, 4 % in Bangaldesh and 4 % in Tibet? What is its relationship with the river systems and with the composite Ganga-Brahmputra-Meghna basin and its consequences?
How does it affect the policies of Industry, Power, Agriculture, Urban Development, Health and Environment by the central government, the governments of eleven states (Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, NCT of Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttranchal, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal), the neighboring countries and industry bodies like CII/FICCI/ASSOCHEM/PHCCI?
What is the relevance of Ganga River basin approach when the river channel has been amputated from the flood plains besides the amputation of the river channel itself?
Will the Third Phase of Ganga Action Plan (GAP) or the proposed the Ganga River Basin Authority which is to consider its formation in a meeting likely to be held on January 15 and its proposed river basin approach affect the quality of surface water, ground water and the survival of natural flow of the rivers in the basin? (The GAP-I which was to be completed by March 1990 was extended till March, 2000 when it was declared complete but Phase I of the Plan is not yet fully complete and GAP-II which was to be completed in 2001 was extended till December 2008. This too remains incomplete)
What is the meaning of the official ceremonial and ornamental status being accorded to Ganga just prior to the upcoming parliamentary elections?
Which among the following are the biggest threats to Ganga basin?
a. National Interlinking of Rivers project of NDA & UPA,
b. UP’s Ganga Expressway project,
c. Uttarakhand’s Bhairon Ghati, Loharinag-Pala, Pala Maneri and Maneri Bhali hydro-projects
d. Some 191 heavily polluting industries in the Ganga basin states
e. West Bengal’s Farraka Barrage
f. Bihar’s Interlinking of Rivers project or Kosi High Dam
g. Pollution from “Religious” Activities
h. Corporate funding of political parties
i. Co-opted NGOs
What is required is not yet another Authority but genuine basin approach to overcome these threats.
Given the significance of the discussions, general submissions to the list will be held back (only most important submissions will get posted).
Friday, 2 January 2009
Living with the Kosi
At a meeting on - 17 December 2008 in Patna, experts from Nepal and India grapple with watery issues.
By Shiven Thapa
Thousands of years ago, hunter-gatherer societies discovered that hunting alone is insufficient for their long-term survival and they subsequently took to farming. In need of perennial sources of water for their crops, they moved to lands that were close to rivers. As much as the rivers became the lifeblood of these societies, the natural process of occasional flooding led human settlers to either ‘learn to live with the flow’ or ‘manage’ it.
Thus, began the epic struggle between these two divergent approaches, which ceaselessly continue to awe and shock humans till date – evident from the 18 August flooding of the plains of north Bihar and India, as the Kosi River breached its eastern embankment, and devastated lives and livelihoods, as it has done for more than one millennium. With this breach, the Kosi has carved out a new route altogether and there is a river now where there was earlier none. The Kosi has shifted 120 km eastwards, going back to a course it had abandoned more than 300 years ago and in so doing; it has rendered more than 300 km of embankments useless. On 27 August, the Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh declared the floods in Bihar a “national calamity”. The Kosi floods have left more than two million people homeless, and destroyed 250,000 homes, including 247,000 acres of farm land.
To take stock of this tragedy and encourage further debate on the issue, Barh Mukti Abhiyan and Himal Southasian organised a day-long conference in Patna on 17 December titled The Kosi Breach and Beyond. Water experts, engineers, activists, policymakers, researchers and journalists from India and Nepal participated in the meeting, and deliberated on the following issues of concern:
High dam vs. no dam
-There is a need to look at high dam proposals and the Kosi in the context of the broader India-Nepal water relationship.
-India is averse to Nepal receiving multilateral assistance on high dam projects.
-Where is the money and overall capacity for mammoth projects?
-If a high dam is built on the Kosi, massive displacement and submergence of areas will take place.
-Ethnic groups in Nepal are questioning the implications of a high dam on the proposed model of federal states.
-Large high-tech projects are the fantasies of ambitious rulers and do not rank on the cost-benefit scale.
-The 1950s was an era of engineers, the 1990s that of environmentalists, and in this decade, anthropologists also have a role to play – floods and dams cannot be confined to only engineering solutions.
-If a high dam is to be constructed upstream, three questions need to be answered – how much land will be submerged; is it earthquake-prone; and how much bio-diversity will be lost?
-Embankments are now being discredited in a coordinated way to build up a case for high dams on the Kosi.
-There is a contradiction between flood control and power generation – dams cannot be serving both purposes simultaneously.
-Multipurpose dams have limitations because of contradictory goals.
-The merits of the school of thought which says we should live with the floods, and advocates for a non-technological and non-interventionist solution.
Bureaucracy, policy and politics
-Bureaucratic red tape in India and Nepal – When the Kosi office in Biratnagar writes to the Ministry of Water Resources in Kathmandu, the complaint/query/suggestion is sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Foreign Ministry then sends the note to the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi, which forwards it to the Bihar Government, which in turn dispatches it to the Kosi office located in Birpur.
-A parallel economy operates in the embankment areas due to the politician-contractor nexus. Until this is broken, innovative solutions to the annual Kosi crisis will be difficult to come by.
-There are major gaps between estimated and real areas irrigated. (see Dinesh Kumar Mishra’s table in Himal article.)
-National water policies of Nepal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh appear to be similar.
-Government decisions are based on impulses – policymakers will never live to see the result of their decisions.
Solutions to the Kosi floods
-The best way out of the Kosi crisis is an integrated river basin approach.
-Social, environmental, economic costs must be measured – the Bhakra Nangal dam can be studied.
-Community centred, decentralised water management is needed – pick a tributary and be creative.
-Reductionist engineering interventions must be avoided.
-Lessons can be learnt from the Yellow River in China – they have built a dam that also generates 20,000 MW of electricity.
-Yearning for a permanent solution ignores the fact that engineering is simply a discipline of experiments.
Most issues raised during this interaction converged on the view that mainstream thinking on river management and engineering solutions have remained in a state of denial despite evidence to the contrary. The belief in embanking and damming remains as it was. The high dam proposals floating around in policy circles in India and Nepal claim to be a ‘permanent solution’, but overlook the dangers of seismicity. Moreover, water-related discussions in Southasia have often tended to focus on macro-level issues such as droughts, floods, rivers, dams, and irrigation, but without end-user involvement. There is also little evidence of intra-research community linkages, and no institutional mechanisms appear to be in place to share findings in a sustained manner. Studies on rivers in Southasia fail to take a comprehensive view of the river system – the river is often studied in isolation to the ecological system of which it forms an integral part. Clearly, the Kosi too cannot be understood in isolation.
WATCH OUT FOR EXTENSIVE REPORTAGE AND ANALYSIS IN HIMAL’S FEBRUARY 2009 ISSUE!
About the event:
Himal Southasian and Barh Mukti Abhiyan brought together 26 eminent water experts, engineers, activists, policymakers, researchers and journalists from India and Nepal for a day-long "Interaction on the 'Kosi Breach and Beyond'"
As the waters released by the 18 August breach of the eastern embankment above the Kosi Barrage at Kausaha in Nepal slowly recede, media coverage of the tragedy is fast dwindling both in Nepal and India. Given the impact of the Kosi inundation, which affects a large number people in one of Southasia’s poorest regions, and also due to the complicated geopolitical dimension of this cross-border river, it is important that a scientific, people-centered and humanitarian response be evolved.
One of the main focus of the event was the discussion on the impact of the recent breach, as also the viability of the different alternatives, including a) keeping the Kosi confined within the existing embankments; b) building a high dam; c) other possible engineering solutions; and d) going back to the historical experience of living with the flood in the plains, and adjusting livelihoods and infrastructure to the annual inundation.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or at +977-1-5552141 for any queries regarding the event.
Date: 17 December 2008
Venue: Hotel Ambassador, Patna, India
Welcome note: Dinesh Kumar Mishra
Introductory remarks: Kanak Mani Dixit
Discussion on Kausaha Breach and status
Status of proposed Kosi High Dam
Consolidation of the proceedings for the day and open discussion
Dinesh Kumar Mishra
Dr Arun Dhoj Adhikary
Dr. V.N. Sharma
Kanak Mani Dixit
Prof C.P. Sinha
Tula Narayan Shah
Chandra Kishore Jha
Abhay Mohan Jha